Projecting the Cactus/Grapefruit League Standings, Part 2: Let’s Divisionate!

On Monday, we projected what the Cactus/Grapefruit standings could look like given baseball’s radical proposal to base the 2020 season in team’s Arizona and Florida spring training complexes.

In my first piece, I went with division-less leagues, since I am the ZiPS Dictator — faber est suae quisque fortunae. With travel distances relatively limited compared to a normal season and many of the traditional divisional rivalries gone topsy-turvy, I felt there wasn’t any real need to have divisions. No divisions doesn’t mean that fewer teams make the playoffs, after all.

But being the ZiPS Dictator doesn’t make one the MLB Dictator, and there’s a very good chance that any Arizona/Florida league will have makeshift divisions. First, let’s re-project our temporary leagues using the divisions that Bob Nightengale laid out in his piece initially reporting the paln. For the number of games, I’m going with the proposed 108, consisting of 12 games against each team’s division rivals and six games against each of the non-division teams. We’ll start with the Florida teams:

Grapefruit League North
Team W L GB PCT Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
New York Yankees 67 41 .620 88.9% 5.3% 94.2% 15.6%
Philadelphia Phillies 56 52 11 .519 9.7% 21.3% 31.1% 2.4%
Toronto Blue Jays 48 60 19 .444 0.8% 2.7% 3.4% 0.2%
Pittsburgh Pirates 48 60 19 .444 0.5% 1.9% 2.4% 0.1%
Detroit Tigers 41 67 26 .380 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.0%

The Yankees get nearly as easy a division as can reasonably be expected, with only the Philadelphia Phillies being good enough to pose a significant danger. The Pirates and Tigers are obviously rebuilding, the Blue Jays have a number of serious holes, and any team challenging the Yankees would need some assistance from non-division teams to shut down the Bombers. In this divisional format, the Yankees might even take longer to bring back some of their more severely injured players such as Aaron Judge and Aaron Hicks. Why rush them? Now let’s look south:

Grapefruit League South
Team W L GB PCT Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
Atlanta Braves 61 47 .565 36.9% 27.7% 64.6% 7.1%
Tampa Bay Rays 61 47 .565 32.9% 27.9% 60.8% 6.4%
Minnesota Twins 60 48 1 .556 25.5% 27.4% 52.9% 5.1%
Boston Red Sox 53 55 8 .491 4.6% 10.9% 15.5% 1.1%
Baltimore Orioles 37 71 24 .343 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%

This might be the most exciting division of the sixth. You have two 2019 division winners in the Braves and Twins and a 96-win team that didn’t suffer any serious losses over the offseason in the Rays. And none of them are so good that they immediately knock the Red Sox into the no-hope category. The Orioles remain a long-shot, but in truth, they’re a long-shot in any division that isn’t in Triple-A. We’ll wrap up Florida with the East Division:

Grapefruit League East
Team W L GB PCT Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
Houston Astros 62 46 .574 47.1% 22.0% 69.1% 8.1%
Washington Nationals 60 48 2 .556 34.0% 24.1% 58.1% 6.1%
New York Mets 56 52 6 .519 11.1% 15.9% 26.9% 2.2%
St. Louis Cardinals 54 54 8 .500 7.5% 12.0% 19.5% 1.5%
Miami Marlins 46 62 16 .426 0.3% 1.0% 1.4% 0.1%

It would be a lot of fun to match up a World Series rematch scenario coming off the disclosure of Houston’s trashcananigans. Gerrit Cole is gone, but you’d get some direct World Series pitching matchups with Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke still on the Astros. The Cardinals would be in a position to get some 2019 postseason revenge of their own against the Nationals, and the Mets, even having lost Noah Syndergaard, are still legitimate second-tier contenders. Maybe the Marlins will have home-state advantage? OK, maybe a reach. Now let’s look to Arizona, starting with the Northeast Division:

Cactus League Northeast
Team W L GB PCT Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
Oakland Athletics 59 49 .546 45.7% 16.9% 62.6% 5.7%
Chicago Cubs 57 51 2 .528 29.8% 18.1% 47.9% 3.8%
Arizona Diamondbacks 56 52 3 .519 20.6% 16.0% 36.6% 2.7%
Colorado Rockies 49 59 10 .454 2.5% 3.4% 5.9% 0.3%
San Francisco Giants 47 61 12 .435 1.4% 2.3% 3.7% 0.2%

This is one of the more familiar looking divisions, with three-fifths of the NL West left intact. I doubt any of those teams are going to object too strenuously to being relieved of having to compete directly with the Dodgers and Mookie Betts in 2020. The top three projected teams in the division were all serious Wild Card contenders — only Oakland succeeded in 2019 — and this division gives them a better chance at a divisional title than they would have otherwise. Now we’ll examine the West:

Cactus League West
Team W L GB PCT Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
Los Angeles Dodgers 67 41 .620 77.5% 15.8% 93.3% 13.3%
Cleveland Indians 58 50 9 .537 11.8% 36.7% 48.5% 3.2%
Cincinnati Reds 54 54 13 .500 4.3% 21.3% 25.6% 1.4%
Los Angeles Angels 54 54 13 .500 3.6% 19.5% 23.2% 1.2%
Chicago White Sox 53 55 14 .491 2.7% 15.5% 18.2% 0.9%

Playing in the West Division is a rather unfortunate development for second-tier contenders. The Indians and Reds both had good divisional chances in a normal 2020 and the Angels and White Sox were interesting third-tier contenders. Now, they’re all thrown into a division with the Dodgers and ZiPS is not optimistic about their chances. 108 games instead of 162 does help with this, however. This division is especially tough for the White Sox, who would now project to be the worst team in the division when they previously hoped to feast on the also-ran Royals and Tigers. Finally, to the Northwest Division we go:

Cactus League Northwest
Team W L GB PCT Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
San Diego Padres 59 49 .546 56.4% 11.7% 68.1% 6.3%
Milwaukee Brewers 57 51 2 .528 34.0% 14.8% 48.8% 3.9%
Texas Rangers 51 57 8 .472 7.2% 5.7% 13.0% 0.8%
Kansas City Royals 47 61 12 .435 2.1% 2.0% 4.1% 0.2%
Seattle Mariners 42 66 17 .389 0.3% 0.2% 0.5% 0.0%

If someone had talked seriously about the Padres-Brewers divisional race three months ago, I probably would have looked at them askance. Both these teams get a significant boost in a weak division, which might be especially important for the Padres, who are relieved of facing the Dodgers like the rest of their NL West brethren. Kansas City and Seattle actually see better divisional odds than in their normal divisions, but it’s a marginal gain.

I do kind of miss being the dictator. So let me put my baseball authoritarian hat back and do my own preferred leagues. Rather than take into account any of the Florida travel logistics, I tried instead to group teams based solely on historical baseball and for geographic reasons related to their home franchise cities.

For these divisions, I tried to pair as many of the traditional rivals together as possible, while also deferring to certain geographic rivalries. It’s impossible to make every team/fanbase happy since I need exactly six divisions of exactly five teams, but I tried my best!

Grapefruit League East
Team W L GB PCT Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
New York Yankees 66 42 .611 84.5% 7.4% 91.9% 15.0%
New York Mets 57 51 9 .528 10.1% 21.1% 31.2% 2.5%
Boston Red Sox 54 54 12 .500 4.8% 12.4% 17.2% 1.2%
Toronto Blue Jays 48 60 18 .444 0.6% 2.2% 2.8% 0.2%
Detroit Tigers 41 67 25 .380 0.0% 0.0% 0.1% 0.0%

The new Grapefruit League East preserves the Yankees-Red Sox matchups while also adding a bunch of Yankees-Mets showdowns. And while Baltimore is an actual AL East team, I went with the Tigers here to match up with the Blue Jays, a classic old-school AL East rivalry for those of you who grew up in the 1980s as I did. The Yankees still project to handily win this division, but as the best projected team in baseball, they look quite solid in most matchups. As for the next division…

Grapefruit League South
Team W L GB PCT Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
Atlanta Braves 62 46 .574 36.0% 29.9% 65.9% 7.3%
Tampa Bay Rays 61 47 1 .565 32.2% 29.8% 62.0% 6.6%
Washington Nationals 61 47 1 .565 31.5% 30.0% 61.5% 6.5%
Miami Marlins 47 61 15 .435 0.3% 1.3% 1.7% 0.1%
Baltimore Orioles 37 71 25 .343 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%

The Orioles get to match up against the Nationals in this divisional configuration, most of those games being future losses. The rest of the southeastern teams fit neatly here as they did in the other Grapefruit League South. Like that division, this looks like a fun three-way race between three elite 2019 teams. On to the Central:

Grapefruit League Central
Team W L GB PCT Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
Houston Astros 62 46 .574 51.3% 18.3% 69.6% 8.5%
Minnesota Twins 59 49 3 .546 29.1% 21.9% 51.0% 5.2%
Philadelphia Phillies 55 53 7 .509 10.6% 13.4% 24.0% 2.0%
St. Louis Cardinals 54 54 8 .500 8.5% 11.2% 19.7% 1.6%
Pittsburgh Pirates 46 62 16 .426 0.5% 1.0% 1.4% 0.1%

The Twins are kind of the orphaned team here thanks to their interesting normal-division rivals, Cleveland and Chicago, playing in Arizona. Most of the old AL West, Minnesota’s previous division, are already playing in the Cactus League. This division gives half of 2019’s divisions winners (Twins, Astros, Cardinals) and the Phillies at least have some upside given the top-end talent on the roster. You also get to keep the Philadelphia-Pittsburgh cross-state rivalry. Now on to Arizona:

Cactus League Midwest
Team W L GB PCT Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
Cleveland Indians 58 50 .537 34.1% 18.0% 52.1% 4.6%
Chicago Cubs 57 51 1 .528 23.4% 16.7% 40.1% 3.2%
Milwaukee Brewers 55 53 3 .509 17.7% 15.0% 32.7% 2.5%
Cincinnati Reds 55 53 3 .509 14.8% 13.7% 28.5% 2.1%
Chicago White Sox 53 55 5 .491 10.0% 10.5% 20.5% 1.4%

The Cactus League Midwest is a rather tidy division, essentially housing all of the AL Central/NL Central stragglers in one slate. You get both Chicago teams and both Ohio teams, and the results are probably my favorite of these six divisions. In 108 games, all five teams project to have at least a 10% chance of emerging Midwest champions, a level of competitiveness that ZiPS has never projected for a real-life division, as far as I can tell. Next, we’ll turn our attention to the California teams:

Cactus League California
Team W L GB PCT Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
Los Angeles Dodgers 67 41 .620 74.3% 19.0% 93.3% 13.5%
Oakland Athletics 58 50 9 .537 12.0% 38.7% 50.7% 3.5%
San Diego Padres 58 50 9 .537 10.2% 36.3% 46.5% 3.1%
Los Angeles Angels 54 54 13 .500 3.4% 19.5% 22.9% 1.3%
San Francisco Giants 46 62 21 .426 0.1% 1.8% 1.9% 0.1%

The California teams also fit neatly together, though with the Dodgers being projected as the best team in baseball, the race doesn’t look as exciting as they do in the Midwest Division. The Padres remain competitive — ZiPS is higher on them than any other projection system that I am aware of. This division keeps both the L.A. rivalries, Dodgers/Giants, and A’s/Giants, so there’s a lot o history here. And finally, to wrap up Arizona play, we have the West:

Cactus League West
Team W L GB PCT Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
Arizona Diamondbacks 57 51 .528 61.1% 3.0% 64.1% 5.2%
Texas Rangers 51 57 6 .472 18.3% 3.6% 21.9% 1.4%
Colorado Rockies 50 58 7 .463 12.7% 2.6% 15.2% 0.9%
Kansas City Royals 48 60 9 .444 6.8% 1.5% 8.2% 0.5%
Seattle Mariners 43 65 14 .398 1.2% 0.2% 1.3% 0.1%

Unfortunately, this division can best be classified as…The Others. The teams here either don’t have an extensive rivalry history, or at least don’t have one that’s available (no Royals/Cardinals or Astros/Rangers games are possible). This is a problem that MLB has had in the past when assigning teams geographic rivalries for interleague play. After MLB ran out of New York, Chicago, and L.A. rivalries, there were a few stragglers. So you ended up with the Mariners having as their bitter rivals, the Padres because… of Eddie Vedder? The Rockies, Diamondbacks, and Rangers, along with the Astros, were given a rotating split rivalry.

But what this division lacks in rivalries, it makes up for in giving borderline candidates a better shot at the playoffs. Arizona projects as the division’s best team, but this is the best chance for any of the other four teams to win a division in 2020.

For the final divisional mix, let’s take a page from the English football league system. For each league, I split the teams into three divisions, assembled by their roster strengths, as projected by ZiPS. Obviously, MLB would never do this in a million years — and would probably do the whole relegation thing once in a billion years — but it’s fun to imagine if, in the lieu of traditional playoffs, we just had the best teams beating up on each other all season.

Grapefruit League Premier
Team W L GB PCT Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
New York Yankees 64 44 .593 43.1% 34.0% 77.0% 11.2%
Houston Astros 60 48 4 .556 18.5% 34.6% 53.1% 5.9%
Atlanta Braves 59 49 5 .546 14.2% 31.6% 45.7% 4.8%
Tampa Bay Rays 59 49 5 .546 12.3% 29.5% 41.8% 4.3%
Washington Nationals 59 49 5 .546 12.0% 29.2% 41.2% 4.2%

Grapefruit League One
Team W L GB PCT Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
Minnesota Twins 59 49 .546 42.2% 10.5% 52.7% 6.7%
New York Mets 56 52 3 .519 18.9% 8.9% 27.8% 3.1%
Philadelphia Phillies 55 53 4 .509 16.5% 8.2% 24.7% 2.7%
St. Louis Cardinals 54 54 5 .500 13.1% 7.2% 20.3% 2.1%
Boston Red Sox 53 55 6 .491 9.3% 5.4% 14.7% 1.5%

Grapefruit League Two
Team W L GB PCT Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
Toronto Blue Jays 50 58 .463 35.6% 0.3% 35.9% 2.5%
Pittsburgh Pirates 50 58 .463 28.9% 0.3% 29.2% 2.0%
Miami Marlins 49 59 1 .454 29.0% 0.3% 29.3% 2.0%
Detroit Tigers 43 65 7 .398 5.1% 0.0% 5.2% 0.3%
Baltimore Orioles 39 69 11 .361 1.4% 0.0% 1.4% 0.1%

Cactus League Premier
Team W L GB PCT Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
Los Angeles Dodgers 66 42 .611 67.4% 23.3% 90.6% 13.9%
Oakland Athletics 58 50 8 .537 9.8% 33.8% 43.7% 3.4%
Cleveland Indians 57 51 9 .528 9.0% 32.6% 41.5% 3.2%
San Diego Padres 57 51 9 .528 8.3% 31.2% 39.5% 3.0%
Chicago Cubs 56 52 10 .519 5.5% 24.6% 30.1% 2.1%

Cactus League One
Team W L GB PCT Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
Milwaukee Brewers 56 52 .519 24.5% 11.2% 35.7% 3.4%
Arizona Diamondbacks 55 53 1 .509 21.9% 10.8% 32.7% 3.0%
Cincinnati Reds 55 53 1 .509 20.7% 10.5% 31.3% 2.9%
Los Angeles Angels 55 53 1 .509 18.7% 9.9% 28.6% 2.6%
Chicago White Sox 54 54 2 .500 14.2% 8.5% 22.6% 2.0%

Cactus League Two
Team W L GB PCT Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
Texas Rangers 52 56 .481 36.2% 1.1% 37.3% 2.7%
Colorado Rockies 50 58 2 .463 26.3% 1.0% 27.3% 1.9%
San Francisco Giants 49 59 3 .454 18.7% 0.8% 19.5% 1.3%
Kansas City Royals 48 60 4 .444 15.3% 0.7% 15.9% 1.0%
Seattle Mariners 43 65 9 .398 3.5% 0.1% 3.6% 0.2%

Nothing too surprising here, but one can’t deny how exciting these division would be! 28 of the 30 teams project to have at least a 5% chance of winning their divisions. (It is a bit sad that the Orioles still only project to have a 1.4% chance of winning a division in which the best team is the Pirates or Blue Jays.)

After the initial piece, I was asked by a Jays fan on Twitter if I could project the Jays to make the playoffs. Mission accomplished!





Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

22 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Tel
2 years ago

I know I’ve been out of touch at home for over a month, but how did I miss Ohio annexing Milwaukee?! (The Cactus league Midwest has the two Chicago teams and all three Ohio teams.)

Bryzmember
2 years ago
Reply to  Tel

Welcome to Ohio 3.